Five ways technology is improving the physician-patient relationship

Few things are as perplexing to healthcare providers as the challenge of nurturing more meaningful, intimate relationships with patients in an era of rising healthcare costs.

Vendors have rolled out a number of healthcare technology solutions to address these challenges, such as app-enabled patient portals, but much of the time, these tools simply serve as data repositories — underutilized by both the patients whom they are intended to serve as well as the physicians who are supposed to be using them. However, some physicians aren't hesitant to adopt technology.

According to the 2016 HIMSS Connected Health Survey1, 52 percent of healthcare IT professionals use at least three connected health technologies with their patients. The problem is that physicians aren't always confident about the best ways to utilize connected health technology for both clinical purposes and relationship building. However, for those who aspire to maximize their wired and wireless electronics, here is how technology can improve physician-patient relationships in a healthcare setting:

1. Offering anytime/anywhere connectivity: With the Association of the American Medical Colleges projecting a physician shortage2 in the United States ranging between 61,700 and 94,700 over the next decade, it's no wonder patients complain that their healthcare providers are hard to reach. While volume-driven medicine is on the decline, physicians still feel shortchanged when it comes to getting enough time with their patients. According to one survey3, the percentage of hospitals reporting that 10 percent or more of their revenue comes from value-based contracts almost doubled between August 2014 and February 2015. Therefore, helping to engage patients in their care is an easy way to add value. For example, a healthcare organization could encourage progress reports or follow up questions through the use of a mobile portal or other virtual app for patients. Connected technology doesn't replace in-person visits; however, it can allow physicians and patients to interact securely during off hours in a variety of formats (email, text, etc.).

2. Adding a personal touch: Physicians are no strangers to collecting data — the nitty gritty particulars about a patient such as drug allergies, weight and interesting bits of medical history. Technology offers a way to leverage this patient data to improve care (for example, by alerting a physician to a potential adverse reaction to a drug), or giving insight into a patient's mental health status (which could, for example, help a hospital-based physician make better decisions at the point of care). In addition, technology can do more than nudge outcomes in a positive direction by also enhancing emotional connections between patients and care providers. For example, a physician can add a personal touch by utilizing a tool that automatically dispatches special messages to patients on their birthdays (and perhaps offers "birthday" perks such as 5 percent off an ancillary product or service).

3. Reducing patient no shows: Getting patients to come to their appointments is a shared pain point among many healthcare providers throughout various healthcare settings. The problem seems more pressing at the practice level , but missed visits can impact hospitals, too. If patients miss regularly scheduled visits or follow up appointments, their condition may worsen and the risk of re-admission increases. Intervention, such as phone reminders, may be helpful, but still carries an administrative burden. A better alternative is using scheduling technology that alerts patients to their appointment, while eliminating much of the administration burden, including calling or emailing patients individually. Using tools to automate digital patient visit reminders through email or text can also enhance satisfaction by giving patients the flexibility to make schedule changes.

4. Holding patients more accountable: Patients are more likely to comply with their care plan when they feel they have another stakeholder who is invested in their well-being. Technology can serve as a crucial interface between a physician and a patient who needs ongoing support and motivation between visits, such as a diabetic patient who is adjusting to new medications and lifestyle modifications. When physicians recommend or "prescribe" apps to patients to track their health data — such as steps taken or blood sugar readings— and then invite their patients to transmit data at regular intervals, patients don't feel so alone in their health-improvement efforts.

5. Marketing the right services to the right patients: With the cost of care delivery rising, healthcare organizations need to capture every ounce of revenue possible, whether it is through elective surgeries or an ancillary service such as nutrition or fitness counseling. Mass emails are a daily annoyance, and healthcare organizations are sometimes as guilty as any other vendor of sending too many regular, generic "blasts" to everyone they've ever seen in any capacity. Today, technology can help hospitals streamline their email outreach efforts. So if, for example, a rural hospital wants to alert a subset of patients age 50 and over to its new cardiology service for heart scans, they can connect with that demographic through the use of such a tool.

Utilizing technology can help physicians leverage information and exchange data in a way that not only supports patient care, but fosters the growth of value-based care. Keeping patients engaged and happy starts with building the meaningful, intimate relationships with patients. Technology can help physicians with this endeavor.

1 http://www.himss.org/2016-connected-health-survey
2 https://www.aamc.org/newsroom/newsreleases/458074/2016_workforce_projections_04052016.html
3 http://www.healthcare-informatics.com/news-item/survey-shift-value-based-care-hospitals-growing-significantly

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